Ours is a family of foodies, and we didn't want to miss the opportunity to try as many authentic Brazilian dishes as possible. Lucky for us, we found Tom Le Mesurier, who operates Eat Rio Food Tours (eatrio.net) and spiced up our South American experience.
Le Mesurier is a London transplant married to a Rio native, and has been leading food tours for only a year. But he's knowledgeable about both the city and its food, and happily accommodates children, allergies, and diet restrictions.
Our tour began midday at Nova Capela in the Lapa neighborhood, a classic restaurant where waiters serve in white dinner jackets (think Galatoire's in New Orleans). We sampled the house specialty, bolinho de bacalhau, croquettes of shredded salted codfish. The adventurous few on our tour took a forkful of malagueta peppers to add some heat to the crispy dish. Everyone enjoyed a pineapple suco (juice), served with fresh mint.
Exiting Nova, we strolled through Lapa, which is known for its night life. But by day, there's not much to see — until you arrive at Escadaria Selarón, 250 steps tiled by artist Jorge Selaron, who died last year at 65. Le Mesurier allowed us time to climb the impressive stairs and take photographs before gently urging us along to Feira de Gloria, the street market.
Amid the colorful stalls of fish, fruits, vegetables, and spices, we stopped for a tapioca crepe made from the popular manioc root, then strolled a bit farther to a booth where men were freshly grinding sugar cane stalks into juice (caldo de cana). In its pure liquid form, the sugar cane is sickly sweet, but Le Mesurier passed out limes to squeeze into the juice to cut the sweetness.
Heading onward, we grabbed the Metro to Tacaca do Norte in the Flamengo neighborhood, where we slurped the restaurant's namesake soup. Le Mesurier's telling of the story behind tacaca — extracted from a poisonous root, then submerged in the Amazon River for three days, and boiled for three more — had our kids enthralled. So did tasting the actual dish. Along with shrimp, it features jambu, a flowering plant with an analgesic property that makes your tongue tingle, and goma de mandioca, a gummy form of tapioca that settles at the bottom of the bowl. It prompted my husband to coin tacaca "poison slime flower soup," and an unforgettable Brazilian memory was born.
Jill Radsken can be reached at email@example.com.